09 January 2017

Music of 2016

Angel Olsen, My Woman

Kristin Kontrol, X-Communicate

Julianna Barwick, Will

Mitski, Puberty 2

Nite Jewel, Liquid Cool

Suede, Night Music

Blood Orange, Freetown Sound

Sub Rosa, For This We Fought The Battle of Ages

Tegan and Sara, Love You to Death

Mary Lattimore, Music Inspired by Philippe Garrel’s Le Révélateur

31 October 2016

Notes On October Viewing 2016

It’s like Ben Wheatley directed a season of Mad Men.
The Last Man On Earth
Vincent Price as a feared killer of men who in turn ends at the same fate. I think what I loved most was the understated presentation of this biological apocalypse. The empty streets, the clear and warm sunshine full of nothing, and the weary narration of a man unaware of just how doomed he is.
Panic In The Year Zero
Ray Milland throwing punches and grabbing guns like a drunk Trump supporter. All the paranoia on display - a film made in 1962 by the way - was all the more eerily disquieting as it looked like the same could happen today.
Penda’s Fen
What struck me was the intellectual and dramatic subtlety presented in how a young adult molded their identity. I loved how they addressed the mythic element in national identity as well. All in 1973 - almost unthinkable today.

Carnival of Souls
I was not expecting this to be such a knock out. First, Criterion’s presentation is excellent. Definitely one of the best restorations that I’ve seen. Second, the film was an incredibly haunting experience. The setting, the music, the acting - it all meshed so perfectly. This was the perfect Halloween movie.
Spider Baby
Lots of fun - Virginia and Elizabeth were especially amusing. Another perfect Halloween movie. Forever in my mind on a double bill with Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Or with Grey Gardens. 
I was surprised that it wasn’t entirely about kink but also as much about mental health. Self-harm, specifically. I appreciated how the movie handled those subjects sensitively enough. She’s really just trying to find peace.
There’s a social context to which the film alludes - the kids screaming at the cinema (a self-reflexive gesture, obviously) and the ongoing Tour - and then there’s the personal context to which the film is more directly involved. The woman and the killer representing two degrees of alienation - from family and from society - that somehow complement each other in the film’s outlook. A dysfunctional relationship being the best means of representing it, apparently. As a serial killer film, it’s rather pointless but leave it to the French to use any genre at hand to discuss terrible relationships. And poorly use Bauhaus cos why the hell not? Alan Vega’s unsettling piece was used effectively at least.
Tenderness of the Wolves
This movie on the other hand was a more straightforward take on the community delusion that keeps a psychopath in business. 
I had never seen this one before so I was a little concerned at how it would play after twenty years. I’ve seen plenty of Joss Whedon so why not give Kevin Williamson a try? I thought it was pretty good especially since I’d seen so much else in its wake. Plus it was nice to see Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich in something besides The Craft. My favorite scene was the big reveal in the kitchen. Craven really has a flair for shooting maximum drama in small spaces. See also The People Under The Stairs for that.
Scream 2
I didn’t find its self-ironic stance entirely interesting especially as it kept trying to stay a few steps ahead of itself but it was still pretty entertaining. Mostly thanks to the actors who really kept a good handle on it all. I think I liked it even more than Scream cos this one was so over the top. You haven’t lived til you’ve seen Laurie Metcalf menacing people with a handgun.
Having watched Scream really made me appreciate Carpenter’s original much more.
God Told Me To
Deliriously unhinged.
The Amityville Horror
The horror comedy classic. I thought Margot Kidder was great tho.

I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House
A very slow burn with lots of stillness, natural sound, and restrained aesthetics. This is more a story about the house than the people in it. Which is an interesting idea but it sucks out a lot of the human interest. I think they could have done more with the premise but I do appreciate how they let the audience add it all up.
Dracula’s Daughter
You can’t escape your fate.
Community (Season Six)
My Mad Fat Diary (Season One)
Babylon 5 (Season Two)

11 October 2016

Persons of Orison: Going to Church with Julianna Barwick

I had the recent pleasure of seeing Julianna Barwick last week perform live in a church in Lexington. I had a taste of the experience in September when she opened for Angel Olsen but it was all too brief. This evening, however, everything was perfect. (It was a smaller audience but it was no less thrilling.) The church was the ideal space. Its ambience and acoustics made it feel like sitting within one of her earlier records. The very sparse lighting and the later hour contributed to that effect. The two opening acts Robert Beatty and Mary Lattimore were no slouches, either. The concert itself was soft but loud. Almost like being wrapped within "Offing" from Nepenthe for fifty minutes. I couldn't tell one piece from another through the sonic haze and I didn't care. Crafting the aura from her keyboard fully ablaze, Barwick seemed more concerned with sustaining the mood. I for one was content within that spell as my mind drifted along. It was sustained beautifully. It was the perfect immersion into her world. The audience filed out in what seemed like a very mellow mood. Much mellower than I've seen in audiences in many years. It was truly wonderful and it felt so, so great to finally see her live after so many years loving her music.

03 January 2016

Music of 2015

Kamasi Washington, The Epic
Quite ambitious at a length of three hours with a full band of twelve players. It can be a somewhat dense listen given the average song length – seven to twelve minutes being the norm – but it possesses a corresponding sum of energy and invention. Energy and invention is pretty much the MO for jazz but here’s it’s especially engaging.

Tamaryn, Cranekiss
It’s something like a kiss. Definitely the warmest album of the year – and the one that I listened to most often in 2015. Swooning and sighing with an androgynous joy that I all too rarely get to hear especially when delivered so lushly and so directly. Just an astounding evolution in Tamaryn’s sound.

Wax Idols, American Tragic
A good complement to the Tamaryn record. Similar textures but here with a much darker hue. Both albums are equally glossy which really just makes them insinuate their sounds into your mind more easily. The singing here is even better – more confidence, loads of swagger, it’s even more of the band that we love. A dark, vibrant sequence of songs always pushing you forward. A lot like the Grimes album, this one also deals in themes of not letting others hold one back. It’s really neat how a few albums I loved this year are similar in theme. You just can’t stop these people.

THEEsatisfaction, EarthEE
Hitting celestial heights that I hadn’t experienced since Grimes. Celestial heights in the manner of Babylon 5 rather than Star Wars, let me say. What I enjoyed most about the album was its perfect nocturnal quality. Driving everywhere – a la Night Drive by Chromatics – with this as soundtrack is even better as it provides so much food for thought. A very political work in that way which I appreciated. It’s a very mysterious but immensely inviting album. The singing really sells that quality there. If you have the exciting mission of counting all the stars, this is the music you want to hear. And they’re also really great live.

Grimes, Art Angels
A bright, weird, and joyous celebration of not letting others hold you back. It’s almost like New Year’s again with each listening. It’s the opposite of Visions in many ways but it has that album’s same strengths just with less darkness. All the black and green and purple on Visions is replaced with tons of yellow, white, pink, and blue. It’s the first day of summer to the late autumn midnight of Visions. Like Tamaryn and Wax Idols, it’s a very interesting evolution and as with those two just as exciting to hear.

La Luz, Weirdo Shrine
Absolutely haunting. Much like an empty beach in the early morning. I love how the guitars and vocals each have their own layer of reverb which really pushes that haunting quality. The guitar playing is also the most assured and fluid that I heard all year. It’s really amazing. The sense of space in how the record was mixed was also something else.

Screaming Females, Rose Mountain
One of the most affirming records that I heard all year. If Marissa Paternoster were a doctor or a chef, I’d be amongst the healthiest, happiest people alive. I wish more indie rock could work at this level.

Dilly Dally, Sore
Loud, strong, hoarse, and blunt like a hammer. I loved every moment of it. Lead song Desire tells you everything you want to know then leaves you begging for more. I really love the style of this album. I’d utterly love it if they toured with Screaming Females.

Shannon and the Clams, Gone Before The Dawn
I’ve loved their other albums, but the lyrical focus on this one as it tied each song together really made it stand out from the previous albums. I love a good break-up album and this one doesn’t disappoint at all. It’s not bitter as much as it’s tired and disappointed which is rather true to life which I think anyone can appreciate. Their style is more soulful than dour which also helped.

Beach House, Thank Your Lucky Stars
I know, I know: who needs another Beach House album? Or even two the same year. But I really liked this one more than Depression Cherry. Edgier guitar, more focused writer, and better structure overall.

28 October 2015

"I’m not nothing" - The Return of Wax Idols

Just a short review here as I'm really excited for this new album!

American Tragic by Wax Idols is the latest evolution in the band’s sound. And there’s so much to love here in the band's step forward: production, mixing, drumming, lyrics, song titles, even the sequencing is perfect. This is the Wax Idols experience at a new high. Shinier, more piercing, and even more engaging. An absolute gem of a pop record that’s high among the year’s best.

While the album looks short at nine songs, it’s a slow burn of a musical journey that explores the dreams and ambitions of being one’s own distinct self. As statements of intent, there are song titles bearing this out: "I’m Not Going", "Goodbye Baby", and "Severely Yours" which sounds like an especially acerbic (and delicious) closing to a break-up letter. So with this new album, Wax Idols is here to stay. Detractors can’t hold her back or make a dent in that resolve to make her own way. While Discipline + Desire was in parts a record of drowning, struggling, and persevering, American Tragic is what happens when you finally come to the shore and stagger forward. Coming to shore like Nancy in The Craft, let me add.
While "A Violent Transgression" starts it all off ominously like its predecessor but with a smoother malevolence, it isn’t until the next song "Lonely You" that the album's sonic change becomes apparent and announces the band’s evolution. It’s obvious why this is a single - with an equally stylish and memorable music video starring Wax Idols mastermind Hether Fortune! Endlessly listenable and incredibly catchy, it’s everything that one could love about Wax Idols. It’s a perfect song, but those haunted vocals higher in the mix really make it stand out in the band’s catalog a Wax Idols anthem. To remind us of how she got to shore is "I’m Not Going" which is a beautiful hymn to persevering. It’s in "Deborah" that we have the album’s highlight, however. The guitar and drums create some wonderful tension which the singing hardly alleviates - only to make it all explode in the choruses. Harder drums, cavernous guitar, and some sparse Cure-like synth, this exorcism in song is a knock out. I would take a guess that the Deborah in question is Deborah Curtis speaking to her late husband. Maybe I’m wrong on that interpretation – if not it’s about time someone broached the subject so hats off to Wax Idols – but regardless it’s a great song about moving past those who’ve hurt or betrayed us. "Goodbye Baby" coming off the heels of "Deborah" makes explicit the need to make a break with another person. Another great song it also features some especially expressive singing. What really becomes wonderfully obvious in the second half of American Tragic is the mixing. The vocals sound better than usual and reveal a wonderful swagger to the singing. The intense brooding of Discipline + Desire now reinforced with an infectious swagger is a combination that helps American Tragic (and Wax Idols) reach a new level aesthetically. "At Any Moment" – great solo and keys by the way – makes this especially clear. But to hear the difference compare Discipline + Desire closer "Stay In" to "Seraph". While the yearning and frustration that helps make "Stay In" such a perfect song are present, the vocals are curiously buried somewhat as if those emotions should haunt rather than confront. An aesthetic tactic that does work let me add, but in "Seraph" it all springs to life from the very beginning. And with a bit of Cult-like attitude in that opening guitar! All to great effect as the album closer is a powerful reclamation of one’s self and a perfect summation of American Tragic. I’m not nothing, indeed. May the ambitions of Wax Idols burn forever.

16 October 2015

Roxane Gay

We had the distinct pleasure of seeing Roxane Gay this Wednesday evening past at University of Kentucky's Singletary Center for the Arts. Coming to stage in an unassuming and relaxed manner, she took a seat and began to read. She immediately won over the audience in the crowded hall with "UPS Man" which transfixed me with its humor and lovely appreciation for the delivery man. I've never laughed so much with one person's appreciation for the human form. Then she read chapter one of her novel An Untamed State which was more somber but showed a keen attention toward emotional states. It sounds like a tough novel to read given the story in that chapter but it was very intriguing given its power. Then she read three pieces from her essay collection Bad Feminist: "Typical First Year Professor", "How to Be Friends with Another Woman", and "Bad Feminist, Part Two". Then there was a Q&A where on the pop culture front she was asked about Joss Whedon, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé/Jay-Z and also on matters of writing, self-care, and surviving in academia. This was one of the best author talks that I've attended and Gay's insightful comments were appreciated. She was humorous and relaxed, always whipsmart, and a delight. I commend the university for bringing such a wonderful writer to its campus.

07 June 2015

David Bordwell on HHH

David Bordwell, the renowned film professor and author of Figures Traced in Light, has released a new video lecture on Hou Hsiao-Hsien entitled Constraints, Traditions, and Trends. A valuable commentator on Asian cinema, Bordwell's video is sure to provide greater context and appreciation for this master filmmaker.

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